In Payson the big story when it comes to the state budget is the potential closing of the Tonto Natural Bridge, but for historians and genealogists the threat to history research centers like the state archives has been a point of concern. Recently I did a little research at the Arizona State Archives and at the Arizona Department of Mining and Mineral Resources. Here’s a sense of what is happening there.
The last time I was at the Arizona State Archives things were better, though with a foreboding sense of the future. It was December 2008 and budget cuts had not hit yet. They had just finished moving into their new facility months earlier — a facility named for longtime Gila County legislator Polly Rosenbaum.
This new building is a significant upgrade from their previously cramped quarters on the third floor of the old capitol building. There is a formal check-in process at this new place, all the better to keep valuable archival items from walking out. Temperature controlled storage of these items has also taken a gigantic leap forward.
During my December 2008 visit they knew what was on the horizon, and it turned out not to be pretty.
By late last spring they were down to appointment only use, with no regular hours. Things are better now, they are open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Thursday, but the operation is still nowhere near where things were before — when you could visit between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
I’ve become acquainted with some of the archivists and visiting was like catching up with old friends. They are happy that the archives are now under control of the Arizona Secretary of State instead of the Legislature — as they had long been. They are also clearly a bit fatigued from all the cuts that have occurred and there’s a general sense that in these times, nobody is safe.
The collection of items is incredible. We’re talking truly original Arizona documents, some of which they had on display for Arizona Statehood Day. I have personally viewed school records that are 100 years old from Gila County and report cards of those long gone. These are items that are unique and help us remember those who came before us.
Over at the Arizona Department of Mining and Mineral Resources things are a bit grimmer.
Initially you don’t sense it. As I entered the museum there were as many school kids as ever visiting, making it a little bit challenging to get to their offices on the second floor. I should mention that is a neat museum and at just $2 for admission, a nice value that is worth the visit if you are down there.
I’ve been to their research room many times. It is tiny and the copier in it for public use is no longer functioning and with budget cuts, it is unlikely to be replaced anytime soon. The people though, were as friendly and helpful as ever.
Government often gets a bad rap, but most of my experiences as a researcher have been extraordinarily good. These people are passionate about what they do and happy to talk shop with you if they have the time.
The mining department has a challenging role. Obviously, for people like me who are digging into the history of mines they are a great resource with a plentitude of old information and mine files.
The day of my most recent visit I dug into the Sunflower Group of mines that were mercury producers. The documentation for the World War II era when there were some price guarantees being given by the federal government, were fascinating.
The mining department also has a key business role to play in assisting with technical research, field investigations and putting out publications about Arizona mineral opportunities.
If you’ve ever taken a hard look at a mining or geologic publication you’d know that a lot of it can be very Greek to a layman. The folks who deal in this every day have to be smart and insightful.
The day of my visit, the staff was particularly nervous. The governor was coming soon and they’re dreading further cuts. According to the person I talked to, they’ve already gone from seven paid personnel to four paid personnel, and that includes the museum staff.
It was obvious to me that they were a bit short of staff, even with some volunteers doing their best to fill in some gaps and perform office work. It is places like this where you can really see the toll of budget cuts.
One thing that I found interesting was that when I mentioned that I was from Payson, the Tonto Natural Bridge came up. They are glad to see us step up to try to keep it open.
Clearly we are moving up in the eyes of others in this state by having the proactive leadership as a community. I mentioned the possibility of ASU coming to Payson, something these folks weren’t aware of. Once again, I could tell that it made an impact.
The state budget crisis is having a terrible effect on the history community around the state.
The Arizona Historical Society, with locations in Tucson, Tempe and Flagstaff is on the chopping block. State funding for Sharlot Hall in Prescott, has also been proposed to be phased out over the next five years. With less than two years until Arizona State Centennial, it looks more and more like that celebration will be led by car dealerships with “centennial specials” instead of the state’s historic community. More than ever it is important that people reach out to the legislators, pushing them to fund history.
We also have some wonderful local history organizations including the Northern Gila County Historical Society and Northern Gila County Genealogical Society that deserve any support you can give.
Related Web sites that are worth a visit: